Sure, there are a few obvious changes and details left out, but Schreiber manages to capture the unrelenting spirit of a complex and challenging work of fiction. Some literary aspects are simplified for the sake of time and the cinematic format, but I still felt the endearing idiosyncrasies and quirky tone of the novel—the delightful mix of tragedy, comedy and authentic emotion. Schreiber incredibly even translates Foer’s words into some truly beautiful visuals. (Try to find a more stunning image than the unending field of sunflowers.)
Between this and the equally great but unseen GREEN STREET HOOLIGANS, Elijah Wood is doing a great job of not just distancing himself from Frodo, but proving that he’s truly a capable actor. Through his thick glasses, Wood uses his baby blue eyes to create a soulful and relatable character out of someone who, honestly, is pretty quiet and weird. And I don’t know where Schreiber found Eugene Hutz (apparently he fronts a Russian punk band), but the actor is charismatic as hell playing Alex, and steals the show with his thesaurus-laden interpretation of the English language. (“Many girls want to be carnal with me because I’m such a premium dancer.”) Even the dog, Sammy Davis Jr. Jr., gives a memorable performance.
EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED might be a bit too offbeat or leisurely-paced for casual viewers. Schreiber, like Foer, doesn’t cater to the audience (i.e. you’re going to have to figure stuff out on your own). However, I honestly can’t think of a more perfect title for this story, whether as a novel or a movie—we’re all trying to find something, even if we don’t know what we’re looking for. Do yourself a favor and be illuminated by a film that deserves to be discovered by a larger audience.
Additional Scenes (18:21): Seven extended or alternate scenes are presented, some too slow and insignificant, but most are just plain weird and…wacky. There’s an alternate opening with Jesus, Ghandi and Hitler, a creepy sexual fantasy that the dog has about Elijah Wood, and Alex’s visual explanation of Ukranian sex positions, which is automatically awesome because it features a dancing midget. Even if these deleted scenes don’t belong in the movie, they’re still a lot of fun and worth a watch.
Theatrical Trailer (2:25): Features the great song “How It Ends” by Devotchka, but it also gives away a lot of the more poignant emotional moments. Don’t watch it before you see the movie!
For his debut film (and apparently a passionate project for him), you’d think Liev Schreiber could at least do a commentary. C’mon!